Customer service boot camp may be in order to aid tourism

Customer service runs the gamut in New Albany.
One can find examples of prompt, courteous service with accurate filling of orders and staff in establishments going the extra mile to solve a problem, or even to prevent one from happening.
On the other hand, there are some – mostly habitual offenders – who make customers wait long periods for no discernible reason and send the customer away, often with items not even remotely similar to what he or she ordered.
A sensible person will check to see he or she has been given what was asked for before leaving the business, but should not have to.
People grumble about poor customer service but usually don’t do much to follow up on it. One gets the feeling business owners don’t care enough to do anything about it anyway or it would not be happening in the first place. There is sometimes a sense of entitlement on their part along with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude (if you can find it elsewhere, that is).
It’s been that way for ages, which kind of describes how New Albany operates in a nutshell.
But now that the city has hired a marketing director and apparently signaled at least some interest in coordinating promotion of local events and increasing tourism in general, poor customer service will of necessity be the object of more focus.
We can have a brilliant marketing plan, a tourism director who is creating, organizing and implementing all sorts of events, but one bad – or even just apathetic – service person can kill hundreds or thousands of dollars in local spending by making a negative or indifferent impression on visitors.
Promotion may get people here, but once they arrive, who will they actually talk to? Who will provide the first, lasting impression of the Fair and Friendly City?
Of course they will talk with hotel staff, convenience store clerks, restaurant servers and, one hopes, eventually with salespeople and even owners of various local businesses. Some may actually go by the welcome center, but all will assuredly interact with people, mostly well below the level of manager and certainly not tourism professionals.
These counter people (for lack of a more specific label) are the local troops on the ground in terms of tourism.
But I have talked with enough visitors myself to know that most of these workers are woefully uninformed about what Union County has to offer and it does not occur to many service people to make suggestions to visitors without being asked (although, thankfully, some do).
This is not really the fault of the individuals working in local businesses; it’s just something that has only vaguely come up in the past and, like tourism in general, no concerted effort has been made to do anything about it.
A few years ago somebody in Tupelo offered a program (I don’t remember who or even what it was called) where those who work at hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and the like were brought in, essentially trained in ways to be good, positive ambassadors for the city, and rewarded for their effort as well.
That has been talked about here over the years. Perhaps an organization such as the UCDA or Main Street could sponsor such a program. Perhaps businesses could organize something on their own (maybe even a newspaper).
Perhaps even individual employees on their own will decide to learn more about Union County’s many cultural and business assets, and work harder to make visitors aware of what they could be enjoying and benefitting from. That would increase their own self-worth and indirectly help the whole community prosper.
But either way, it is critical that those on the front lines of tourism have the ammunition they need to win over happy, repeat visitors and the skills to use that knowledge to make sure visitors get the most they possibly can from their visit here.
Print advertising is good but it’s hard to beat word of mouth and as we know, people are much more likely to pass on a bad impression or dissatisfaction with service than they are with satisfaction.
It won’t be that difficult to make those who interact with visitors better ambassadors. We have plenty to be proud of and all workers need to do is be aware of sharing that pride.
J. Lynn West

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